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1940 Service



The first half of 1940 was a time when the pressures of war manifested themselves as long hours and little sleep for Reg.  There is very little documented history of these months but the following set of excerpts from his letters to Ann give an insight into the confusion, frustration and sorrows of the war.


10th January 1940
Pembroke Dock

 On Sunday from here, we are broadcasting a very big concert party - lots of London stars are coming down for it - Sir Kingsley Wood and quite a mob of other people.  It is being broadcast at about 7pm. So don't forget to listen in.

I did a spot of fly today, for the first time since I came back.  My shoulder stood up very well.  In fact I didn't feel it at all - you have no idea how grand it was to get back in the sky again - to feel the wind in your face and to travel at speed.  

They have suddenly decided here to make all the married chaps live in the camp - the chaps are having to send their wives home! - I have been expecting it for some time.


22nd January 1940
Pembroke Dock

I have been in France for two days - I came back here last night (by air).

I must say the French looked after us very well.  They couldn't speak a word of English and my French is pretty bloody, but we seemed to manage alright - especially when we knocked back a few drinks!



5th February 1940
Pembroke Dock

At the moment I am suffering a very powerful attack of my old disease -  wanderlust.  Unless things brighten up here I shall apply for a transfer to any squadron in France.

There is a strong rumour that they are going to call for volunteers to go to Finland.  I hope they do 'cos I shall go like a shot.

I don't think I shall ever be free from this wanderlust it is still there as powerful as ever...



16th February 1940
Pembroke Dock

We have been so busy here we are all completely worn out.  For the last week I have been up every morning by 4 o'clock, and have been crawling into bed about midnight.  I am really dead with fatigue....



19th  February 1940
Pembroke Dock

This place has been hell on earth lately, everybody flying and working like the devil - and there seems to be very little chance of it easing off at all.

I am feeling very very restless and we are actually having a hell of a time of it at the moment.

I am also trying to prepare for this concert party broadcast - it comes on Tuesday February 27th from 6.25 to 7 o'clock.  I am broadcasting with the doctor here - we have written a song and some cross talk.  I hope you wont think it is too bad!. Remember we are only amateurs!!!



28th February 1940
Pembroke Dock

Well I hope that you didn't have to switch it off because it was as bad as all that! - some of it was pretty bloody - but altogether it wasn't too bad.  The stuff that Maycock and I put over I wrote myself - so far we haven't received any professional offers!!!



15th March 1940
Pembroke Dock

Our squadron has been given today off.  The first day since war started



Reg perhaps starts to question....


25th March 1940
Pembroke Dock

It seems so long ago - so much has happened, lots of my ideals and hopes have gone west in this war....



15th April 1940
Pembroke Dock 

As you can see by the address I am back here.

I came down on Saturday, bringing my damaged flying boat back for repairs - she is full of bullet holes and shrapnel, which I collected over Norway!

I got away without a scratch although one of the bullets just about parted my hair.  I shall be here either until the boat is repaired or they give me a new one.

Do you remember Peter Kite?  He was at Calshot with me - he was up in Scotland with me and I am sorry to say he was shot down in his boat on Tuesday afternoon over Norway - it is a damned shame.  He was such a grand bloke.  Poor old Peter he was really looking forward to pinching a bridesmaid at our wedding.



22nd April 1940
Pembroke Dock

Monday 2 am

My leave has been cancelled - I have just been awakened and I am taking off in half an hour for the North.



Communications were erratic...


25th April 1940

I haven't the faintest idea when I can let you have another letter...



28th April 1940

I don't know when you will get this letter, it all depends on the chap I am giving it to.  It may be weeks before I can even get a card through to you.



10th May 1940







11th May 1940
Pembroke Dock

I arrived here at 9 this morning.

At the moment there is a complete and utter flap on here, nobody knows what is happening - we are all standing by at 1 hours notice.

All set to go but nobody knows where!  What a mess...




8th June 1940
Pembroke Dock

I am definitely not moving from here - our work has been doubled here and I am flying 10 hours a day.



The loss of comrades....


2nd July 1940
Pembroke Dock

It seems that Angel and Junior were shot down just off the coast here - it's a damned shame they were two grand blokes.  Incidentally my crew weren't with them - chaps I have flown with since came here.





16th July 1940
R.A.F. Station Oban

Just a note to tell you I have moved.



26th July 1940
Station Hotel, Oban

I have just been and bought the wedding ring - white gold, and half a size smaller than the ring you sent me - I hope that I don't break your finger putting it on!



1st August 1940
Station Hotel, Oban

I have just received your grand present, it is marvellous, much too nice for the boat. (Ann made and embroidered a table cloth for Reg's flying  boat)

I have been trying to work out some sort of programme for September.  I arrive in Portsmouth on Friday evening (27th). We are married on Saturday afternoon, spend Saturday night in London and catch the 7.30 (evening) train on Sunday - arrive (Somewhere!) for four or five days honeymoon - and then Oban.





DFC Raid

16 August 1940

Reg took Sunderland ‘H’ of 210 Squadron, ‘Queen of the Air’, on patrol in very poor weather conditions in support of a five ship convoy.



Queen of the Air


Owing to the weather he considered aborting, but a call came through informing Reg that the Empire Merchant had been torpedoed and they were told to search for a U-boat. It was five hours later that U-51 was spotted.1 Reg steeply banked the Sunderland into the attack, throwing members of his crew around. 


My second pilot spotted the U-boat about 300 yards on our port side. It began to submerge at once. As we passed over the swirl we let go a salvo. The bombs apparently got just under the submarine before they went off. It was terrific. The surface of the sea seemed to shudder for yards around then suddenly blow up. In the middle of all the foam the submarine appeared, but sank again.

Reg’s rear gunner would receive a painful souvenir of how low the attack had been, the explosion buffeting the Sunderland, and the rear gunner banging his head of the top of his turret. 

We turned and dropped another salvo plumb in the middle of the patch of foam. Up came the U-boat once more, but this time it rocketed out of the water at such an angle that we could see daylight between it and the sea. It seemed to stay poised for a moment, then slowly went down. I dropped a third salvo just to make sure.


If a coup de grace was needed that supplied it. Huge air bubbles came rushing up – one was a good 30ft across – then masses of oil. The whole thing was over in a minute-and-a-half.


Reg’s rigger brought his captain a cup of tea after the sinking and Reg was heard to say ‘I’ll bet those fellows in the sub are drinking salt water now instead of tea!’


The Senior Naval Officer with the convoy was informed of the attack and apparent success and a destroyer was sent to investigate further but found nothing. In fact the U-boat had not been sunk, but four days later it would be sent to the bottom by the British submarine HMS Cachalot. U-51 had sunk eight ships on four patrols.2


Reg returned home landing at 7.30 that evening. Believing a kill had been made a white star would soon appear on the hull of ‘Queen of the Air’.


For this and subsequent successes against the U-boat threat Reg Baker was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Reg and his wife of six months Norma Ann went to Buckingham Palace in March 1941 to receive his DFC from the King.

There is a chapter from David Masters book 'So Few' first published in 1941 describing in full the attack that won Reg his first DFC.    

[View the chapter]


The Second U-boat Success

29 August 1940

Reg scored his second success against U-boats 

Just before dawn, the Queen of the Air began to roar over, the waters. The smoke from the adjacent city mingled with the mist to add to the difficulties of that particular base, but she got safely away and was soon heading out to sea to pick up her convoy. At dawn contact was made and thereafter for hour on hour the captain and crew of the Sunderland carried out their normal submarine patrol, circling the convoy and flying ahead to search for submarines or mines in the course of the ships.

About 11 o'clock that morning the escorting destroyer signalled: "There's a U-boat about here somewhere." The sensitive ears of the Asdic had detected the sound of the submarine moving under the sea and the naval commander had at once invoked the eyes overhead to help to find the enemy:

Diving low, the flying-boat began a creeping line ahead search, but it was about ten minutes before the keen eyes on the aircraft saw the track of the submarine's periscope. Instantly the captain attacked with a depth charge, flinging the crew about as he came round steeply to get in another attack before climbing to finish the U-boat off with bombs. He made no mistake. All that he had been taught about the distance a submarine can travel under water in a minute was in his mind as he made his three attacks along the track of the invisible-enemy. Directly the Sunderland had finished attacking, the destroyer came roaring on the scene to add a few more depth charges just to make sure. The huge air bubbles which belched up to the surface and the gobs of oil which appeared and spread over the area marked the destruction of the enemy. When the destroyer carried out a sweep with the Asdic, she signalled: "No contact. Sub destroyed."

That evening the Queen of the Air landed at her base at 6 o'clock with a very happy crew. If anyone had cause for complaint it was the rear-gunner who had another large bump on the top of his head to prove how the explosion had flicked the tail and jolted him hard against the top of the turret. But he was in no mood to grouse. He was quite willing to stand any number of bumps providing they got the U-boats. So, with due ceremony, the second white star was painted on the hull of the flying-boat.

Reg wrote:

You have to be quick to catch a prey of this kind. Everything must be done in the course of about a minute. If you miss your target on your first dive, he submerges deep and cannot be despatched with the same assurance by the time you have regained height and swooped for another kill. 



28 September 1940

Reg Baker married Norma Ann Snelling at Christ Church, Portsdown, Hampshire.




The war wouldn’t leave them alone even then, as an air raid took place during the ceremony.

As they were pronounce man and wife, the all clear sounded.






3rd U-boat Kill

17 October 1940

A Sunderland Flying Boat from Coastal Command attacks a U-Boat

The third white star was earned on October 17th, about 300 miles away from Cape Wrath, that bleak headland in the north of Scotland, where the Atlantic pours through the Pentland Firth into the North Sea, often with such fury under the lash of the gales that the English Channel at its worst bears no comparison. Getting away in the dark about 5.30 in the morning, the crew of the flying-boat watched the dawn gradually light up the sea beneath them. For several hundred miles they cruised on their normal routine of guarding a convoy when, about 9.30, the warning Klaxon blared through the aircraft.

The front gunner sighted the submarine on the starboard side and at once signalled and opened fire. It was on the surface and travelling towards the convoy, but a smart look-out was being kept on the submarine, for it immediately did a crash dive. Quickly as it tried to escape, however, it was seconds too slow for the Sunderland, whose captain sent her diving down to attack. Round came the flying-boat, throwing her crew about, to attack again. Just before this attack, all on board felt the flying-boat stagger as a great blow hit the tail. "There was a most colossal crack on the tail plane," explained Flight Lieutenant Baker later. "It gave us a big shaking."

The rear-gunner who received his usual bump on the head when the first attack was made, got a nastier bump still the second time round, for there was a big explosion inside the submarine and he saw pieces of wreckage flying up out of the sea and felt them hitting the tail plane. "The tail plane has been damaged by wreckage from the sub," he reported to the captain.

They watched the surface of the sea belching great air bubbles, saw the oil gushing up and spreading wider and wider, and as the sea quietened down the captain turned the flying-boat for home. "Are you all right?" he inquired of the rear-gunner through the "intercom." this is the service way of describing the inter­communication system between the members of an aircraft.

The rear-gunner felt his bumps.

There is no need for you to press the buzzer in future," he replied, "as every time I get a crack on the head I shall know you've got a sub."

They landed safely at base, to find their tail plane fabric badly cut about in dozens of places by the wreckage hurled up from the exploding submarine. In due course the third star made its appear­ance on the hull of the Queen of the Air.


Silver salver from Doncaster Mayor

December 1940

The Mayor of Doncaster presented a silver salver to Reg in recognition of his DFC



[to 1941]

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1 Search Find and Kill Coastal Command’s U-boat Successes, Franks N.L.R. (Aston Publications) p16

2 Search Find and Kill Coastal Command’s U-boat Successes, Franks N.L.R. (Aston Publications) p16


This page last updated:Monday 22 December 2008


Table of contents detailing updates added here
RAF Lasham 1942-48 - a project by Trinny.  Please click here to view

Victory Fighters: The Veterans' Story - Winning the Battle for Supremacy in the Skies Over Western Europe, 1941-1945
By Stephen Darlow

Victory Fighters is largely a collection of eye-witness accounts of the struggle that raged in the skies over occupied Europe after the Battle of Britain. Reg Baker is one of the six featured pilots.

Stephen Darlow has been a major support and contributor to this website do please visit the website of this excellent Military Aviation author.




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